Australian minister Julie Bishop denies plan to challenge PM Abbott

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop speaks at a joint Australia-United Kingdom Ministerial Consultations (AUKMIN) press conference in Sydney, Australia, on Feb 2, 2015. Ms Bishop dismissed press reports that questioned her loyalty t
Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop speaks at a joint Australia-United Kingdom Ministerial Consultations (AUKMIN) press conference in Sydney, Australia, on Feb 2, 2015. Ms Bishop dismissed press reports that questioned her loyalty to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, saying she would not challenge him for leadership of the Liberal Party. -- PHOTO: EPA

CANBERRA (BLOOMBERG) - Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop dismissed press reports that questioned her loyalty to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, saying she would not challenge him for leadership of the Liberal Party.

"I am not campaigning for the job of prime minister, I'm not ringing the backbench asking for support," Ms Bishop said in an e-mailed statement of remarks made to her Liberal-National coalition cabinet colleagues. "I am not counting any numbers, I will not challenge the leader."

The message of support for Mr Abbott, 57, came after he met with his Cabinet on Tuesday for the first time since the summer break, seeking to reset the political agenda amid slumping poll ratings and disquiet over his decision-making. The Prime Minister earlier sought to brush off speculation that Ms Bishop, the party deputy, refused to pledge her loyalty in a Feb 1 meeting.

"I have meetings with Julie Bishop all the time," Mr Abbott told Channel 7. "I think people find that insider-Canberra stuff so boring. What they're looking for is politicians who are not endlessly navel-gazing, not fighting amongst themselves but are getting on with the government of this country."

The Australian Broadcasting Corp said earlier on Tuesday it had learned that neither Ms Bishop nor Communications Minister and former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull had ruled out challenging Mr Abbott.

Mr Abbott used a key speech in Canberra on Monday to spell out his coalition's priorities for the year, including introducing a new childcare policy, boosting jobs and cutting taxes for small business.

QUEENSLAND VOTE

Speculation that Abbott may face a leadership challenge mounted after conservative allies in Queensland suffered a massive swing in the Jan 31 state election. Liberal National party Premier Campbell Newman lost his seat, with Labor - which was reduced to only 7 of the state parliament's 89 seats in 2012 - poised to take government.

Support for Mr Abbott has fallen to 27 per cent, with 44 per cent favoring Labor leader Bill Shorten, according to a Galaxy poll published Sunday in News Ltd newspapers. The government slipped to 43 per cent support on a two-party preferred basis, trailing Labor on 57 per cent, the poll showed.

Parliament resumes next week with Abbott set to face a meeting of his coalition party members on Feb 10. The Liberals face another test when New South Wales, the biggest state, goes to the polls in late March.